Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? It is often referred to as the winter blues. It is a type of depression that usually occurs during the fall and winter months as the hours of daylight grow shorter. However, it may occur in the summer months as well. The symptoms are those of depressive episodes, but there is no specific test for the illness.

Recovery is good for those who get treatment. There are lifestyle changes that can help you decrease your symptoms. These can include increasing the amount of time spent outdoors, getting more physical exercise, and maintaining healthy eating habits. Light therapy, talk therapy, and medication are often used treatments for seasonal affective disorder. If not treated, complications can set in. Like in other kinds of depression, there is an increased risk of suicide.

If you can’t get outside, use a light therapy lamp. If life style changes aren’t helping enough, behavioral therapy or an anti-depressant might be what you need. Talk to your therapist or healthcare provider to find the best solution for you to get relief.

by Kathy Frick

Feel Better, Live Better

Choosing the Right Therapist

Counseling or psychotherapy for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or relationships can be a very life changing, if not life saving, process. It is so important to find the best match for your needs. For many, this is a new experience or at least new in this current situation or location.

Making an inquiry for services and reaching out for help requires enormous trust. It involves uncertainty. Although finding a great match for your needs can be overwhelming, you can minimize the uncertainty. It is important to ask questions and express your hopes and expectations beginning with the first contact and throughout the process. Your questions may include queries about the counselor’s experience, specialties, flexibility, and availability of appointment times. We encourage you to ask how privacy and confidentiality are protected.

The following is a checklist of considerations that could help you determine whether a clinic and therapist/counselor is a right fit for you. An excellent clinic such as Pinnacle Counseling is able to have high ratings in most, if not all, categories.

Using the Scale 1-5  (with 1-Poor, 3-Average and  5-Excellent) rate the clinics and counselor/therapist you visit:

1. The convenience of the location of the office.

2. The availability of appointment times.

3. The comfort/atmosphere of the office or facility.

4. The competence and knowledge of the therapist.

5. The quality of care and services.

6. The thoroughness of the initial evaluation and treatment.

7. The amount of help you received.

8. Your degree of improvement from the time of the initial visit.

9. The degree to which you were helped to deal more effectively with you problems.

10. The improvement in how you feel compared to the initial visit.

11. Your overall satisfaction with the treatment.

12. The value of the treatment, considering the cost.

13 The response time from your first contact to the initial appointment.

14. The adequacy of explanation of procedures, fees, treatment, etc.

15. The friendliness/courtesy of your therapist.

16. The attention and respect to privacy you received.

17. The personal interest in you and your problems.

18. The attention given to what you had to say.

19. Your comfort in referring a friend or relative.

20. Your comfort in returning if you needed help again.

Sharon Nelson, LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor- Feel Better, Live Better

Can Stress Be Fatal?

 

Audrey A. Adams LCSW

We’ve all heard the saying, “stress can kill you.” Is that true? Well, as a matter of fact, YES it is! The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping you alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds. A Health and Safety Executive states around 9.9 million working days are lost each year to stress, depression, or anxiety. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed; we often don’t know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point.

Common symptoms of stress are headache, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, stomach upset, excessive worry, and sleep problems. Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Besides these very serious health problems, stress that’s left unchecked can manifest itself in anger, resentment, depression, and anxiety. Stress can interfere with your judgment and cause you to make bad decisions, make you see difficult situations as threatening reducing your enjoyment and making you feel bad, making you feel rejected, unable to laugh, afraid of free time, unable to work, and not willing to process your problems with others. A lot of people turn to drugs and alcohol for immediate relief, but drugs and alcohol quickly turn into more stressors, problems, addictions, and health problems of their own.

In the world we live in today, we not only are concerned with our own personal issues, family problems, employment situations, finances, etc. But, we are bombarded with daily news about extremely scary and violent behavior from thousands of miles away to right in our own backyards. One thing that is in our control is making sure we make time for self-care. Your first thought to hearing that was probably, “I don’t have time,” or “I wish!” But think of this, if you don’t find time to do things for yourself, then who will? No one. As adults it is our job to take care of ourselves the best we can or we may not be around as long as we had hoped.

While most of us would likely prefer to take a cruise, rent a cabin in the woods, or go the beach, it is important to remember when it comes to stress, a little bit really does go a long way. The 10 minutes it takes to drive through Starbucks to buy your $6.00 morning coffee, the 30 minutes spent wandering around the grocery store because you’re not sure what you want, or the extra 15 minutes on the phone talking to someone you don’t even really want to speak with can produce stress. Those precious few minutes add up. Taking small chunks of time for yourself can make a profound difference. You deserve to be as stress free as possible. You have to pick your battles. Is what you are stressing about today going to matter this time next year? Is what you are stressing about today something you can control? Putting yourself first is not selfish. Take a walk, talk to someone you trust, take a bubble bath, go fishing, read a book, get a massage, color, dance, watch a comedy that made you laugh 20 years ago, have a picnic by the creek, fly a kite, leave your phone in the other room, look at old pictures, go barefoot in the back yard, try wood carving… The point is just do something…..but do it for YOU!

 

Why does the Mind/Body connection really matter?

By Terry Richardson, MSW LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

PinnacleCounselingNWA.com

Feel Better Live Better- Why does the Mind/Body connection really matter?

 

Worried about being worried sick? Is laughter really the best medicine? Your body may know you’re depressed before you do and doing its best to get your attention. There is growing evidence, supported by research, indicating your mental state really influences your body’s ability to protect and heal itself! In fact, your state of mind could be the best tool you have when defending yourself against illness and maximizing treatment of cancer, heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes and aging. All of your natural defenses are compromised in response to stress (primarily mental).

Most people have at least heard the term “psychosomatic” which quite literally means “mind/body”. Unfortunately, this term was and is commonly misused when someone is thought to have imagined an illness and can then produce symptoms. In confusion, we generally label and dismiss what could be more accurately described as “hypochondria” and have overlooked the power of the psychosomatic process itself. As Woody Allen said “I’m not a hypochondriac, I’m an alarmist”. Ironically, even this rather negative misunderstanding of psychosomatic also confirms the acceptance of the ability of one’s mind to influence a physical condition. Now, scientific research is validating that possibility: we could use the power of the mind (i.e., thinking) to create optimal conditions for becoming and remaining well.

What makes the mind/body perspective worth reconsidering at this juncture? It is the transition which has been occurring, from the realm of “fuzzy logic”, “magical beliefs” and “spiritual eccentricity”, to the realm of solid measurable data. Consider the placebo and nocebo effect. What are the “placebo effect” and the “nocebo effect”? In the simplest terms, it’s the “sugar pill” effect. It’s the uncanny result that is obtained from a substance, or sometimes a behavior, when none of the “treatment” properties are present to create the desired change, and yet, benefit is derived. The nocebo effect accounts for adopting the “belief” that a substance (or change) won’t work, and it doesn’t! The placebo/nocebo effects are so powerful in fact, that all research conducted must allow for the possibility of these effects in their research data. If science is nothing else, it is the domain of measurability, and its primary mantra is “if it cannot be measured, we cannot know it exists”, therefore, thoughts, emotions, feelings, mind and spirit had been relegated into the arena of unscientific observations. Today however, we live in a world of electron microscopes, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and the previously immeasurable can now be measured, observed and replicated.

Mind/Body interaction had been observed and documented by Hans Selye in his work on stress as early as 1946 and the “General Adaptation Syndrome” became popularly known as the Fight-Flight- Freeze response. Of special note regarding mind/body relevance, the stress experience creating the cascade of measurable physiological responses could be triggered consistently, regardless of the threat being real, imagined or perceived (through a mental interpretation) of danger. The body reacts to stimulus by activating the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Researchers believe that prolonged exposure to stress (real or imagined) results in suppression of the immune system, wear and tear of several body systems, placing the individual at higher risk of dis-ease. This was the advent of the earliest biofeedback strategies.

Pioneers in the field of mind/body research have expanded on Selye’s work. Researchers and practitioners have emerged from a broad array of disciplines, including cellular biology, neuroimmunology, psychotherapy and spirituality, representing the specific focus of their disciplines, be it mind or body. The unifying premise of these disciplines is an acknowledgement of the fallacy or artificial separation of mind/body interaction.

These individuals have united under a variety of identifying umbrella labels usually incorporating the terms “Holistic or Wholistic”, “Mind/Body” or “Complementary Alternative” Medicine.

So, with an acceptance of the inter-relatedness of the mind/body concept and the availability of sophisticated equipment, it has become possible to identify and measure methods to enhance mind/body interaction. The implications for psychotherapy are obvious and substantiate the value of “talk therapy” as a viable treatment alternative for mental and physical health. The mind/body perspective includes approaches of prevention that are proactive, health maintaining, healing, and driven by the individual. Today, rather than viewing the dis-ease “treatment” as a response, directed toward a passive recipient, we can engage the whole person on a mind/body journey toward wellness. Be well!

When the Holidays Aren’t Fun: Getting Through the Holidays with Depression

In theory, the holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy, merriment, and togetherness. In reality, as many of us are all too well aware, it can be a time of intense stress. In fact, many global medical institutions issue special guidelines on remaining calm in the midst of logistical nightmares, shopping frustrations, and family meltdowns [1]. Certain jobs – retail, for example-  also become exponentially more stressful during the holiday season [2]. However, some of us suffer from more than passing stresses and frustrations during the holidays. This season can be an especially tough time for those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses; those who are challenged with depression or anxiety disorders may well find themselves overwhelmed as December draws on. This is the shadowy side of the bright, festive delights of Christmas. If you or a loved one struggle with depression or other such problems around Christmas time, here are a few suggestions which may help you to stay strong.

Understand the Problem

There are many reasons why depression and depressive disorders spike at Christmas. Christmas is an emotionally loaded holiday, and the emphasis that we put upon fellowship and togetherness at this time tends to highlight by contrast the situation (real or perceived) of someone who feels unwanted, unloved, alone, or otherwise socially isolated. For those who are surrounded by others, the enforced domesticity (and liberal topping up of glasses) at Christmas can draw out family tensions. Financial stresses put an additional strain on fraying nerves. And then there’s the fact that, for many of us, the holidays happen during a dark and cold season. A lack of sunlight can bring on a naturally-induced depressive state known as Seasonal Affective Disorder [3] which, when combined with the other pressures of the holidays, can make for a profoundly miserable mindset.

If you find yourself getting sad and/or stressed over the Christmas season, take a moment to try and pinpoint the source of the problem. Naming an emotion can, surprisingly, make it easier to control and even to overcome [4]. If you can’t think of a reason why you’re miserable, don’t worry. That simply means that you’ll need to find another way of managing your troubles. It may be that you’re suffering from a biochemical imbalance and could benefit from professional help. With professional help, you should begin to recover your sense of well-being.

Avoid Unnecessary Stress

Avoiding stress is easier said than done. During the holidays, many of us go way out of our way to try and ensure that everything goes smoothly. Many of us may feel that we have to go to these lengths, no matter how stressful it becomes, because the holidays simply would not work in their accustomed manner if we did not. However, it’s well worth taking a deep breath and stepping back from tasks and traditions that bring more stress than joy. Stress-related illnesses spike during Christmas [5], and it’s a peak time for those with anxiety disorders to experience a flare-up of their symptoms [6]. If you’re finding that certain aspects of the holidays are making you unreasonably stressed or unhappy, don’t be afraid to take a step back. Talk to your loved ones about this issue and the way it is making you feel. Hopefully, they’ll be supportive, and help take some of your burden off your shoulders, or assure you that they’d rather you were happy during the holidays than struggling with an overwhelming burden of stress.

Know that You’re Not Alone

It’s quite common for people who are depressed during the holidays to feel tremendously isolated in comparison to the joy and sense of togetherness that is happening all around them. For these people, it may help to know that they are in no way abnormal. A large proportion of us find the holidays tough [7], so you are certainly not out of sync with the world in this instance! Try voicing your frustrations and sadness with others. You may well find that your loved ones have a good deal of sympathy with your position and will share issues of their own in return. This may help you to keep connected with the human reality out there and not sink beneath the weight of the pressure.

Connect with Others

If you feel that you need help in order to defeat the seasonal blues, give us a call and we will discuss options for counseling. You can contact Pinnacle Counseling at (479) 282-2443. If you are spending Christmas at home alone, that is absolutely fine. You should not feel obliged to spend it with anyone else, and you should neither be judged by others nor judge yourself if you are by yourself during the festive season. However, if you truly want to spend time with others but feel you cannot, do your best to rectify the situation. This may involve asking friends or family if they have space at their table. It may involve heading to one of many projects which open their doors to lonely people at Christmas. It may be as simple as heading to social media and sharing some Christmas cheer online. You could even just write down your seasonal thoughts – writing can often have the same kind of effect as human communication can on a brain, and it is an incredibly cathartic activity. Whatever you do, don’t let loneliness and depression defeat you, and remember that we are here to help.

 

[1] NHS, “Keep calm at Christmas”

[2] Aaron Guerrero, “The Holiday Hustle: How Stressed-Out Retail Workers Find Balance”, U.S. News, Dec 2012

[3] Royal College of Psychiatrists, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)”

[4] Tony Schwartz, “The Importance of Naming Your Emotions”, The New York Times, Apr 2015

[5] Robert A Kloner, “The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon”, American Heart Association, Journal of Circulation, 2004

[6] PsychGuides, “Anxiety Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects”

[7] Lamiat Sabin, “Nearly one in two men feel depressed over Christmas, survey reveals”, The Independent, Dec 2014

Going green to support National Mental Illness Awareness Week

Pinnacle Counseling is proudly going green in support of National Mental Illness Awareness Week from Monday, October 7th – Friday, October 11th. Although there are many things you can do to show your support for National Mental Illness Awareness Week, the number one thing every single person can do is to help spread awareness to stop the stigma of mental illness. Starting the conversation is the first step to reaching out and supporting your loved ones as they seek help in a struggle with any sort of mental illness or mental health issue can be remarkably beneficial. At Pinnacle Counseling, we are ready to help you on your journey to becoming more mentally healthy. Check back throughout the week for more posts to help spread the word about the importance of mental health awareness.

 

Erika McCaghren

 

Check it out!

The holiday "blahs"

With the holiday season and winter months fast approaching, feelings and symptoms of depression will often surface or increase. Feeling “down in the dumps” or “blah”, sad, discouraged, hopeless, irritable, cranky, or easily frustrated are typical symptoms of depression. Also feeling withdrawn, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, changes in appetite, sleep, energy, difficulty concentrating, and making decisions are commonly reported. A sense of feeling worthless or excessive guilt may be experienced. Some of these feelings may actually interfere with our relationships, school, job, social activities, and even day to day functioning. If you experience a few or most of these symptoms it is wise to pay attention to what your body is telling you and to take care of yourself.

Often people minimize or don’t understand depression and the possible effects of going untreated. Working with a mental health professional can help you understand depression and learn multiple ways to manage its symptoms. Regardless of the season, feeling better means living better!

 

Erika McCaghren

Depression and Willpower

Trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn’t going to work. — Allie Brosh

In other words, some problems we just can’t think our way out of. We might be able to talk our way out of them, or understand our way out of them, or do or way out of them. Sitting around thinking our same thoughts in solitude is often a recipe for more of the same, where feelings are concerned. If you want things to be different, the first step is usually some sort of different action.